$5,000 to spend for analog front end - advice please...:)


Long-time audiophile who has not touched analog for ~15 years... thinking of getting back in.

Reading about current choices in analog gear makes my eyes glaze over... info overload...

Last rig circa 2000 was Ariston RD11/Black Widow/Grace F9E into CJ pre/ARC power and Maggies. Remember that table was quite touchy... but had moments of brilliance. Remember VTA was super important, but was hard to get right. Also remember edge warping on some records was a major PITA.

Now have Modwright/Sony tube CDP to CJ ET5 to ARC VT50 to ProAc D30R/Rel sub for lowest octave support -- a good, reasonable, high res system without going overboard. Jazz and vocals listener, discerning ear for detail, body and PRAT, don’t like to tweak too much, just want to re-enjoy my LP collection which has been dormant/stored for years in addition to my CD’s.

Thinking roughly $5,000 would be a good number to throw at a fresh analog front end. That would need to include the phono stage as my CJ is a line stage...

VPI, SOTA, ClearAudio, Rega, Project... not sure where to turn, plus new names like Lehmann, Shelter, Soundsmith. Would prefer a relatively turn key system -- can handle follow-the-instructions set-up just fine but don’t want to get into endless fussing. Don’t want to do another Linn/Ariston. Something easier and more consistent.

Don’t think $5K will get me into a real low output MC rig given cost of proper amplification, even with solid state head amp. Also seeing the very cool Thorens retro-updates by Vinyl Nirvana... can those really perform like the modern stuff?

Reading no-brainers tables are VPI Scout or bundled Project tables... not sure about arms and cartridges. Prefer a classic TT look, no thanks to Michell Gyrodecks or giant air pumps or huge acrylic monstrosities... :)

New/demo or used from A-gon? Used VPI Classic or Aries?

Thoughts appreciated from those who are current and in the know. Thanks.




jjss49
VPI could have a "turn key" table.  I bought a Scout, with their arm, and a preinstalled Dynavector 20X HO  MC cartridge.  Not sure if they have better or upscale table/arm/cartridge systems, but I would check it out. You may want the speed controller.  This was a few years back  and cost $2,000.  I think the sound is stupendous.
Shopping used might get you to your goal, but maybe your budget is kind of low.  Which is fine, because more funds may change your outlook going forward.  You know too much to be satisfied with less, as your comments indicated.  VPI is a pretty obvious choice in this general budget range, and I've been pleased with my old Aries II for a long time. Upgrading to the 10.5i tonearm was a good step, so I'd recommend starting with that if possible.  Wish I'd done that at the beginning.  One of the Classic or Prime tables with 10.5i tonearm or better would be my recommendation.  Add a decent cartridge, and there goes your $5K, and you don't yet have a great phono stage.   Look down the road a bit and plan to get the ADS or SDS speed controller for the VPI at some point.  It will improve speed stability and sounds better.  Have a look at my system for more details of how I approached a similar project as the one you have in mind.  I'm not even going to mention how important a great phono stage can be. . .
For $3K to $4K and with some patience, you can find a Kenwood L07D in very good shape. That will include its tonearm (L07J) and a state of the art plinth (despite the fact that the L07D was built in the early 80s.) Assuming the previous owner performed some very routine service, like renewing the electrolytic capacitors, you are good to go.  You won't do better unless you spend more like $10K, IMO.

Features: coreless motor, constrained layer damping of the plinth, magnetic levitation of the platter that partially relieves the bearing, easy VTA adjustment, etc. No belts to fuss with.

http://pbnaudio.com/audio-components/audio-turntables/groovemaster/groovemaster-vintage-direct

Above for your consideration, we make a pretty good phono stage as well :-) 

http://libertyaudio.com/products/b2b-1-all-fet-phono-preamp

Good Listening


Peter
There are many vintage turntable you can have with your budget:
Yamaha gt-2000. Garrard 301...

I bought the phono stage first, BAT VK P10SE. Up to around eighty db in high mode. Not dead quiet at the volume I listen but it does deliver some sweet and powerful music. Rock solid bass. Spent  5K more on the tt/cart though. But then I'm a vinylaholic. It's all expensive but when I go down for a listening session I know it will blow me away every time.You can see the rest on my virtual system listed.
Truth be told though, Peter above with pbnaudio can get you to a high satisfaction level with the above rig.
I'd spend some time and money on the phono stage, a nice tube one for you music preference.  Find a good old Lenco, Micro Seiki or old Sony PS with the carbon arm.  Great values.

Happy Listening. 
I just bought  VPI 2017 Scout. That was 2200. Amazing sound looks like a prime and has improvements over the old scout. Needle doctor has rebuilt koetsu black goldline for 2000. Amazing combo. 
It looks like PBN is offering you a nice table/arm and phono stage package for south of 5K. I assume he has left you wiggle room for a cartridge.
Thanks all for the thoughts thus far... some comments bring back lovely memories... my earlier tables during college/early career days were a Micro Seiki DD40/MA505 and a Kenwood concrete KD500!!

Not pulling trigger yet, but leaning towards a used VPI with 10 in arm, or a SOTA with the same. Or a George Warren.... (nooooo!!!)  Definitely seems like for a very good table/cartridge/head amp $5K may be tough buying all new. Also saw a listing for used Benz Micro PP1... heart goes pitter patter LOL...

Seriously, am thinking going used might be more cost efficient if/when I trade up if the vinyl bug bites hard again. Saw a used Michael Yee Musical Surroundings Nova ss battery powered head amp... maybe that can hold the fort at the start...
@jjss49
Here ya go! Why buy used? New under 5 grand!

http://www.needledoctor.com/Sota-Jewel?sc=2&category=574

http://www.needledoctor.com/Grado-Sonata-V2-Reference

http://store.acousticsounds.com/d/88039/Croft_Acoustics-Croft_RIAA_Phono_Preamp-Phono_Pre_Amps
I still own a VPI- Aries-1 with the JMW-10 arm and a Benz MC cartridge.
I would guess the 10.5i arm is quite a bit better as goheelz recommended (above).  The equivalent current choice to consider would be the new Prime turntable (3500)
if that meets your requirements.  As for a speed-controller, I am not the one to ask since i have the SDS and can't hear the "big difference".
I also have the Lukaschek phono stage (about a thousand give or take)
which is a classic match to Benz MC's.  Anyway, what i have- even if it's "old news" -sounds very good.  Unless you're buying the high-end vinyl currently on the market, I tend to think "ordinary" records are not worth
a turntable setup that costs much more than $5K.  I have 20-30 audiophile-quality records but the rest are cut-outs, fire-sales, used, etc.
If you get a vacuum-type cleaner, that can make a significant difference
when you sit back to listen. But i do agree that fussing over minute adjustments and an endless number of "highly recommended" tweaks
is (perhaps) not your style- mine neither.  
        Before i get slammed for being so naive about "really good analog"
being so amazingly great, etc. - a friend made a CDR for me of some
guy's very-expensive analog rig playing premium vinyl (jazz records),
and it was good but not, you know, fantastic, amazing, etc.
We were both somewhat surprised- not a lot of folks around anymore
with a 5-figure turntable system- but it fell in line with my general opinion.  I still have an open mind on the subject, but until someone
can effectively demonstrate a super-high-end rig for me, that's all i can say on the subject-for now. 
Leaning towards a SOTA with vacuum. Hope it can cure the common edge warping issues I recall (quite unpleasantly LOL)... anyone with experience with these higher end SOTA tables with their vacuum system? Does it really take out most edge warps for a smooth ride for the needle?
I just bought a Technics SL1200GAE and it sounds much better than my VPI Scout 1.1 but it doesn't leave much $ for a phono stage and cart.
If you’re in the USA and want a brand new plug and play TT, then I would not hesitate to get a VPI Scout V1.1. at USD2200. Cartridge - something like a ZYX R50 Bloom Mk III if you want MC or an Ortofon 2M Black if you want MM. Phono stage - TRON Convergence - high end boutique British phono stage for almost beer money (well at least compared to some of their more expensive USD10k+ products) - GBP900 for MM or GBP1000 (USD1250) for MC - direct sale from the UK manufacturer. Vacuum Record Cleaning machine - VPI HW16.5 - USD700. That should just about all squeeze in for your budget of USD 5k and it would be all brand new :)
Purchase a Technics SL-1200G, a Denon 103r, LP Zupreme 15gram headshell and an iPhono 2 and iTube 2 and you will be set for a very very long time. You could spend many tens of thousands more than this combination of products (which I'm using right now (except that I have the GAE version of the Technics) to listen to Stacey Kent) and not come close to its beautiful and natural sound.

All you guys are missing a great potential recommendation:

Rega RP8/Alphetta 2/Aria which comes out at $5700 a bit more, but here is what you get:

1: An extremely musical, no fuss, table with a great cartridge all ready alligned. The new ultra light weight plinth with extreme damping offers a very fast energetic presentation with low amounts of stored energy which makes the table sound more lively then a VPI.

2: An extremely good cartrige, the Aphetta 2 is a fantastic $1,900 cart that when you purchase together with the table Rega takes off $700 from the price of the cart. The new Aphetta 2 is an incredible cart that gives many upper tier cart a run fot their money. The cart employs some novel technology and is a world class cart.

3: An Aria phono stage, look at Tone Audio's review, the Aria again gives alot of expensive phono stages a run for their money, it is quiet, has great dynamics, and has fantastic resoloution, and THEY ARE ALL MADE TO WORK TOGETHER!

So here you have a fantastic well engineered package from one of the best brand in audio. 

We sell this very same package and it is one fantastic analog rig that is literally no fuss you can have the entire setup running in 20mins!

Troy resident geek, Dave Owner
Audio Doctor
Jersey City
www.audiodoctor.com
877 428 2873 
WTL Amadeus or Simplex
Dynavector 20X2
Van Alstine phono preamp
For now here is what I have done....

I bought a used Jasmine 2.5DU w Mockingbird upgrades as a phono amp, dusted off my old sweetheart Micro Seiki DD40/MA505, and put on a fresh AT440MLB cart.... and as a result, I am spinning my old vinyl again!!!

Definitely a worthwhile experience. Very different (and arguably better) sense of musicality, with a softer, rounder image focus than my digital front end, but still much palpable detail and GREAT imaging... very musical and fun!!!! I did not know this old girl still has this much beautiful music in her!!!! LOL!!!

The cartridge and phono amp pairing definitely are up-tilted in the treble. Some jazz/pop records (e.g. Anita Baker Rapture) can be ear-bleeders!  But nice audiophile LP's like MFSL's are in better balance across the range... I guess I will play the cartridge more and hopefully it will settle down when more broken in.  Also will rig up a parallel resistor bypass cable to let the cartridge see 33kohms out instead of 47kohms... some report it can help shift the resonant peak of that particular well known cart and calm it down.

Spoke to Dave at Audio Nirvana about one of his restored Thorens and also still surfing A-gon for maybe a used SOTA. May pull trigger on one of these yet!  Thanks all for the input.
I would recommend VPIs TNT line, obviously used.  I just picked up a well treated TNT MK-6 with 12.7 tonearm, peripheral clamp and a SS Zephyr for about $4,000.  Pair with a SoundSmith phono-stage offering or as I did with a used K&K phono-stage for $1,500 or so and you have a killer combo for $5,500!  You really can't beat a combo like that.  Included a SDS btw.  I bought a similarly priced TNT MK-4 with a SME-V 10 years ago and have loved the sound so I picked up a similar table for my second system.  
I've got a Scout with a HOMC Sumiko BP3 EVO, with Musical Surroundings Phonomena, sounds pretty amazing, and I'm shopping for a better LOMC cart now. There's plenty of table here to support a much nicer cart. Mine is the older, acrylic platter model, somehow I like its sound better than the alumninim ones. To each their own. 

That being said, one of the best vinyl playbacks I've ever heard was on a Sota table with vacuum platter. Can't recall the arm, but it was glorious! At the salon actually. The vacuum isn't to flatten out warped records, it's to make the record and plater as one, to dampen vibration. And it works. 

And I don't know how many records you own, but you should reserve some of that $5k to buy an RCM. A vacuum cleaning machine is almost essential for high end playback of vinyl.  I recently bought the Pro-Ject VS-C, very pleased! Better than the more expensive VPI 16.5. Old records are new again! New records are better. Lowers surface noise, keeps your needle clean, major improvements in sound quality. Worth every cent. 

thanks alpha_gt

okki nokki rcm on its way, along with proper record sleeves :)
i second Audiotroy's recommendation above of the Rega RP8/Apheta 2/Aria. can't imagine doing better with less fuss.
You're welcome jjss49, be prepared to be wowed!  Old records do not wear out, they only get dirty. I've got records I've owned for 40 years, thought they were worn out, but a thorough cleaning and suddenly they are new again! Jaw dropping improvements. I've heard that even new records can use a cleaning because of mold release compound from the pressing machine. 

Another accessory I love is my Zerodust. Or what I affectionately call a, "Booger in a box".  I found one on eBay for much less, like $35. And it is the best way to keep the stylus clean. Just touch it to the tip. And you're done! Genius, so simple, no liquids, or brushes, very easy on the tip, and can be washed so it lasts forever. One of those new ideas that is truly better. There are so many accessories for vinyl playback these days, one could spend a small fortune trying them all, most lay on a shelf somewhere. This one lays next to the 'table, most used accessory next to my carbon fiber brush. 
I can build you a 2500-4k turntable that competes with 5 figure products. You mentioned "prat" a particular strength of my design due to its special low friction bearing Read Michael Fremers review of my "Alloy Convertible". Despite the glowing review this was an early table, a bit rushed for review and the new ones are much better!
Regards,
Bruce
Anvil Turntables



Thanks again to all responders. I have bought a lightly used, lovely VPI Classic 2 SE (thicker plinth, 10.5 JMW non 3D arm with VTA on fly) with a nice Koetsu black. Using a MS Nova Phonomena battery SS head amp for now, ARC PH3 SE on its way. Getting everything set up, adjusted, run in.

Immediate reactions compared to my Micro Seiki DD40/MA 505/AT 440MLB vintage budget rig --- brashness, brightness, giant stage replaced with bass solidity, subtlety, focus and zen calm. Interesting contrasts. Is it 2-3-4-5x better?.....no way, but it is easier and sweeter to listen to, if, I must add, at the loss of a bit of thrill/excitement... performance gap seems smaller on everyday, old commercial LP’s... bigger on audiophile LP’s with their quieter backgrounds/superior dynamics... I suppose obviously so...